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Spend & Save

Donald MacInnes: Surprise, Surprise! There is a limit to American overspending


As we trudge ever onwards towards Santa's ghastly grotto, bearing that annual downcast air; heading for yet another financial cavity search of Christmas spending, I thought it timeous that I address some possible differences between how we approach emptying our bank accounts in celebration of the birth of Jesus (how apt, how suitable... not) and how our American third-cousins-twice-removed do so.

The reason for the pan-Atlantic comparison – and some of you may be aware of this – is that, as I write to you, I am ever-glad to be near the Everglades in south Florida, still managing to do my best to hide from the Yule-ish, goulish assault on my wallet from British retailers desirous of my hard-accrued groats.

Mind you, however much I try to put it off, there will come a time (essentially, I suppose, when my Virgin jet takes off from Miami later today) when I will have to suck it up, man up and take up the reins of my personal sleigh and do my best to guide it safely through the melting icebergs of financial restraint.

While many of you will have been Christmas shopping for what may seem like the best part of a year, America really only got started last Friday, the day after Thanksgiving; the day they call Black Friday.

I wrote about Black Friday in my i column last weekend. But to quickly recap, this is the day which, for most Americans, fires the starting gun on the festive shopping madness. Thanksgiving may fall a mere matter of weeks before Christmas but it definitely provides a speed bump in the year-round excesses of debiting and crediting.

In the lead-up to this celebration of founding fatherhood, this ancient pilgrimage, Christmas is not often discussed. All thoughts are fixated on the arrival of family, on which particular mountain ranges of food to prepare and on the communal offering up of genuinely humble appreciation that they are lucky enough to be living in the most prosperous land of them all.

On the back of that come many, many commercials flagging up Black Friday and the following Cyber Monday, bookends to the Thanksgiving weekend of sitting about not doing very much. Cyber Monday, of course, is the perfect way to round off a weekend of sedentary pleasures, involving as it does just as much rampant consumerism as the previous Friday, but all done from the comfort of your couch.

While the assumption always persists that in the land of the free (market), spending will always continue to go up and up, there was a surprise in store (I'll say!) this morning, when sales figures for Black Friday were announced. It seems that the all-American appetite for non-stop spending actually does have a ceiling. According to the National Retail Federation, Americans this year spent $57.4bn (£35.03bn) over the Black Friday weekend, down from last year's $59.1bn (36.06bn). That saw consumers spend an average of $407.02 (£248.36), down from $423.55 £258.45) last year. Who would have thunk it?